‘People are at a breaking point’ – Pembroke residents lash out at spending

Resident Matt Petersons asks a question about the Memorial Park drainage improvements article at the Pembroke Town Meeting on Saturday. Pembroke voters approved a $11.6 million budget, a 14.5% increase to the town’s tax rate.

Resident Matt Petersons asks a question about the Memorial Park drainage improvements article at the Pembroke Town Meeting on Saturday. Pembroke voters approved a $11.6 million budget, a 14.5% increase to the town’s tax rate. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Pembroke budget chair Gerry Fleury (right) shakes the hand of Charlie Connor, former treasurer of the town, as residents give him a standing ovation at the beginning of the meeting on Saturday.

Pembroke budget chair Gerry Fleury (right) shakes the hand of Charlie Connor, former treasurer of the town, as residents give him a standing ovation at the beginning of the meeting on Saturday.

By MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Monitor staff

Published: 03-16-2024 5:10 PM

Modified: 03-18-2024 9:59 AM


As town officials ramp up spending year after year, people like Ray Olivier can’t keep up.

On Saturday, the challenge for Oliver and other residents on fixed incomes became more pronounced after Pembroke voters approved a $11.6 million budget, which is expected to increase the town portion of the tax rate by 14.5%.

Olivier’s pension can’t keep pace with that kind of increase, he said.

“That just isn’t fair,” he said. “I don’t think anyone’s income has increased 14.5% over the last year. I don’t think it’s increased 14.5% over the last 10 years. You’re just taxing us right out of town.”

Resident Rosemarie Michaud proposed an amendment to cut the town’s capital reserve fund in half from $845,500 to $413,000.

The cut to the reserve fund, which voters passed, helps spare at least some of the increase facing taxpayers in the coming year.

The cuts on the town side follow similar events at the school budget meeting last week. An amendment reduced the budget by 10%, shaving off $3 million from a $33.8 million proposal.

If the school budget had passed as proposed, taxes would have increased by 28%.

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While taxpayers may feel that the capital reserve cuts will spare them this year, it will only lead to large increases in future budgets, said Select Board Member Karen Yeat.

“You might be thinking that you’re saving an impact of taxes now, but that’s going to come up,” she said. “This is an example of kicking the can down the road.”

The tax increase coincides with a property reevaluation year in Pembroke. To help couch the impact of the property assessments, voters approved an increase to the elderly property tax exemption. Now, a homeowner between ages 65 and 74 could see nearly a $50,000 reduction in their home assessment, which will lower their property tax bill if they meet income eligibility guidelines.

“This change is to help ensure that elderly residents who applied for this property tax exemption last year continue to qualify next year,” said Yeaton.

With the property assessments and revenue estimates, it is hard to nail down a final tax rate, said Gerry Fleury, the chair of the budget committee.

“This is an estimate. The budget committee agonizes over this every year over its relative accuracy,” he said. “Your tax rate might not be as bad as it appears to be.”

A known cost driving the budget increase is a severed agreement with Allenstown to offer ambulance services through a Tri-Town EMS partnership between the towns.

Now, Pembroke is on its own to establish and offer ambulance services.

The ambulance budget will increase by $500,000 next year to accommodate this change, as well as a $121,000 deposit into the ambulance equipment capital reserve fund.

“This was a bad hand dealt to us by Allenstown, of which we had no control over,” said Fleury.

When Paul Gagnon, the Pembroke fire chief, learned that the agreement would end on July 1, he contacted neighboring towns about a potential partnership.

To him, it was unclear why Allenstown would disband its agreement after years of partnership.

“The system we have is a good system and has worked well for years,” he said. “I want to share the frustration.”

Now, the town will establish its own Pembroke EMS service.

Increases to the police department are also driving budget costs. To better compete with salaries and benefits in neighboring towns, the police budget will increase by $720,000.

For Michael Pauyer, who has lived in Pembroke for 67 years, the growing tax burden has left him wondering if he can afford to live in town anymore.

“People are at a breaking point,” he said. “I know I am.”

And year to year at Town Meeting, he’s wondered why Pembroke residents have seen these rate increases, despite residents’ pleas for lower costs.

And after votes to cut budgets at both the school and town meetings, he hopes the town’s elected officials take notice.

“I’m just completely befuddled why we do this over and over and over,” he said. “Please pay attention.”